Read Falling for You Online

Authors: Jill Mansell

Falling for You (2 page)

Chapter 2

Anyone living in a city might visit Ashcombe and call it a village, but officially it was a small town, ravishingly pretty and prone to tourists, nestled in a valley of the Cotswolds in true rural fashion. Everyone knew everyone and newcomers, traditionally, were regarded with suspicion. The unwritten rule was that until you'd lived there for over fifty years, you were a begrudgingly tolerated outsider. After that, if you were very, very lucky, you might be accepted as a local.

Somehow, when Juliet Price had moved down from London five years ago and opened the Peach Tree Delicatessen, the rules had been magically broken.

“I don't know how you do it,” said Maddy, when ancient Cyrus Sharp had shuffled out of the shop in his wellies, the bag containing his morning
pain
au
chocolat
and a loaf of walnut bread tucked under one arm. “You should have heard Cyrus in the pub five years ago when he found out the old ironmongers was being turned into a deli: ‘Bloody yuppies and their fancy foreign food…stinking the town out with herbs and garlic…what's wrong with Fray Bentos pies and a can of peas…' And just look at him now, practically your best customer! And he fancies you.” Maddy smirked. “I'm telling you, you've definitely caught his eye.”

“He's a sweetheart.” Smiling, Juliet reached for the broom and quickly swept up the dried mud—at least she hoped it was only dried mud—that had crumbled off Cyrus's wellies. “If he were fifty years younger, I'd take him up on it. Well, I might if he didn't smell so much of farmyards.”

It never failed to impress Maddy, the way Juliet had mysteriously,
effortlessly
, managed to become a bona fide local within the space of, at most, a couple of months. Maybe it had something to do with her lustrous dark eyes, glossy black hair, and gloriously old-fashioned hourglass figure. Maybe it was her warm, velvety voice and innate compassion, but whatever it was, it worked. Juliet was kind, wonderfully discreet, and adored by everyone. A single parent, she had arrived in Ashcombe with two-year-old Tiff, who had inherited his mother's winning smile and—presumably—his absent father's blond hair. Now an entrancing, boisterous seven-year-old, Tiff—short for Christopher—was best friends with Maddy's niece Sophie. The two of them, almost exactly the same age, were inseparable.

“Anyway, look at you,” said Juliet as Maddy emerged from the kitchen lugging four coolers. “All done up on a Monday morning. Eye shadow and mascara—I'm impressed.”

“Oh God,
too
done up?” Maddy pulled a face. Normally she didn't make too much of an effort for her delivery rounds. “I don't look like a dog's dinner, do I?”

“Don't be daft. The regulars are going to wonder what they've done to deserve it, that's all.” Juliet raised a playful eyebrow. “And I'm pretty curious myself.”

“I'm touting for business.” Maddy rested the coolers on the floor.

“Sweetheart, you'll get it.”

“Sandwich business, Miss Clever Drawers. I met someone at a party on Saturday night. Play my cards right, and we'll have ourselves a new customer. He's with Callaghan and Fox. They've been using Blunkett's until now.” Maddy couldn't help sounding a bit smug; winning clients from your rivals was always a thrill. Especially when that rival company was Blunkett's.

“And would this happen to be a rather attractive new customer?”

“Well, I didn't have my lenses in, but I
think
so.” Maddy grinned and reached for the coolers once more as a couple of tourists wandered into the shop. “I'll know for sure when I see him again.”

Juliet, her eyes sparkling, said, “Just don't forget to come back.”

* * *

One of the best things about seven-year-olds, Maddy had discovered, was that when something was irretrievably lost, you could offer them fifty pence each to spend on sweets if they found it and they wouldn't give up until they did. On Sunday morning, Tiff and Sophie had gone through the bathroom with all the attention to detail of a pair of forensic pathologists, finally locating the missing gas-permeable lens stuck to the side of a pack of makeup remover pads.

Solemnly presenting it to Maddy, Sophie had said, “I think probably that might be worth a pound each.”

Delving back into her purse, Maddy shook her head sorrowfully. “You are your father's daughter.”

Sophie looked at her as if she were mad. “Of course I'm my father's daughter. Otherwise he wouldn't be my dad.”

Anyway, two pounds had been a complete bargain. Her lenses were back where they belonged—in her eyes—and the dreaded glasses had been relegated once more to her bedside drawer. Poor old glasses, they weren't really that bad; they certainly didn't deserve to be regarded with such loathing and contempt. For a moment, as she headed into Bath, Maddy almost felt sorry for them. But she couldn't quite bring herself to do it. She had a deep psychological aversion to her glasses, hated them with a passion. When you'd spent your entire time at school being taunted and called Speccy Four Eyes—unoriginal but cruelly effective—it was hard not to. Just the thought of that first pair of hideous pink plastic specs was enough to bring all those old feelings of inadequacy flooding back. She was nine again, not only shortsighted but distressingly plain, the archetypal ugly duckling with her badly cut hair, wonky teeth, pale eyelashes, and matchstick legs. Basically, not a pretty sight. No wonder everyone had spent the best part of twelve years making fun of her.

Oh well, at least it had been character forming. And, thank goodness, she had blossomed since then.

The traffic in Bath had slowed to its habitual morning standstill. While the engine was idling, Maddy checked her face in the rearview mirror, making sure she didn't have cornflakes bits stuck to her teeth (teeth that were no longer crooked, thanks to three years of intensive brace wearing—oh yes, her other nickname had been Metal Mickey. She'd been an absolute stunner at school).

Ruffling her hair—it was blond, layered, and responded well to a quick ruffle—Maddy smiled experimentally at her reflection, as she would soon be smiling at…um, thingy. Superman. Like an idiot, she'd chucked her ruined white trousers in the trash on Sunday morning, forgetting that the business card he'd given her was still in the back pocket. Oh well, didn't matter. She'd find out soon enough.

Another quick practice smile reassured Maddy that she was looking OK (God bless eyelash dye), her lip gloss was still intact, and her nose hadn't gone shiny in the heat. She was wearing a turquoise top, above-the-knee pink skirt, and green-and-pink-striped sandals—smarter than her usual T-shirt and jeans, but the staff at Callaghan and Fox wouldn't know she was only doing it to impress their handsome boss—well, hopefully handsome—ooh, traffic's moving again. Nearly there now.

* * *

The offices were on the top floor of Claremont House. Having parked in the visitor's parking lot, Maddy delivered the regular order to the accountants on the second floor before venturing on up the stairs. Through a glass door she saw a plump girl typing away behind a sleek yellow-and-white reception desk. As Maddy's cooler clunked against the door frame, the girl looked up. Maddy maneuvered herself through the door and said, “Hi, I'm from the Peach Tree Deli. I was asked to—”

“Oh, brilliant, you're here!” The girl stopped typing and jumped to her feet. “We were told to expect you. I can't tell you how excited we all are. Everyone's so fed up with being messed around by Blunkett's, but you just kind of get used to rubbish sandwiches after a while, don't you? If they bring something you actually like, it's a bonus… Oh, wow,” she went on happily as Maddy began lifting out the contents of the cooler, lining up the blue and white plates and deftly removing their cellophane wrappings. Within seconds, they'd been joined by half a dozen other members of staff, all exclaiming greedily over the prospect of free food. But there was no sign of Superman.

“Is…um, your boss here?”

“In his office, on the phone to a client. He'll be out in a minute—ooh, is that smoked salmon?” The receptionist looked as if she might start drooling. “And what's in that one—some kind of chickeny stuff?”

“Chicken in tarragon mayonnaise. Here's a list of some of the other things we do, and these are our prices.” Maddy felt her heart break into a gallop as somewhere, out of view, an office door opened and shut. All of a sudden realizing how much she was looking forward to seeing her rescuer again, she prayed she wouldn't blush.

“About time too,” exclaimed the plump receptionist as footsteps grew louder down the corridor. Glancing over her shoulder, she sang out chirpily, “Food's here! Any longer and we'd have started without you.”

Maddy looked up and saw him smiling at her. Her mouth went dry and her ears began to buzz. No, it couldn't be. It just couldn't.

“Hello there,” said Kerr McKinnon, coming over to join them. He clearly hadn't a clue who she was, other than the girl he had lifted over a high wall on Saturday night. Well, that was hardly surprising when you considered the evidence. His hair may have been a lot longer then, and he'd filled out generally, but otherwise he was more or less the same. She'd changed far more than he had.

Oh God, this was horrible,
horrible
…

“Kerr, you'll have to break it to Blunkett's.” One of the other girls was greedily cramming a chili tuna sandwich into her mouth. “We don't want them anymore. They're sacked. Josh, you big pig, don't eat both the prawn ones!”

“Looks like you've got yourself some new clients,” Kerr McKinnon told Maddy with a wink. Turning to the receptionist, he said, “See? Don't say I never do anything for you.”

Kerr
McKinnon.

“Excuse me.” Maddy took an abrupt step backward, her mind in such a whirl she almost couldn't speak. Clumsily, she turned away from the receptionist's desk.

“Are you OK?” Looking concerned, Kerr McKinnon reached out to put a hand on her arm. Maddy pulled away, nodding and wondering if she might actually faint, which would be
ridiculous
…

Needing to get out, she left the offices and stumbled down the stairs. The sun had turned the inside of the car into a furnace. Maddy sat sideways in the driver's seat with her feet outside the car and her head in her hands. The greatest shock wasn't seeing Kerr McKinnon again. If she had passed him in a crowded street in Bath, say, her knee-jerk reaction would have been far more straightforward: initial recognition swiftly followed by a rush of disdain. Or hatred. Maybe anger, followed by contempt. And then within a few seconds, it would have been over. She wouldn't, for instance, have raced over and started attacking him. If he'd caught her eye, she would simply have shot him a look of loathing, before walking on.

But this was completely different, and the greatest shock of all was realizing how much, after meeting and talking to Kerr McKinnon on Saturday night, she had been looking forward to seeing him again.

Maddy let out a groan of despair. She'd really liked him, and he had seemed to like her. There had been a spark there, the chemistry of mutual attraction. She had spent all of Sunday thinking about him, hoping he was as nice as she thought he was and, ironically, wondering what his name was. If Marcella hadn't emptied the contents of the Hoover bag into the trash can, all over her chucked-away white trousers, she would have hauled them out and retrieved his business card from the back pocket. Then she would have known.

Ah, but would she have come here today, to Kerr McKinnon's offices, bringing carefully prepared food to impress him with?

Of course she wouldn't. Absolutely not.

And now she'd left the cooler upstairs.

“Hey, are you all right?”

Maddy jumped. With her face buried in her hands, she hadn't seen him emerge from the building. Crouching down in front of her, Kerr McKinnon held out a chilled bottle of water and said, “You poor thing, you look terrible. When I saw you turn white back there, I thought you were going to pass out. Here, have a drink.” He unscrewed the top of the bottle for her. “Are you still feeling faint?”

Maddy flinched as he pressed the flat of his hand against her forehead, just like Marcella used to do whenever she complained that she was too ill to go to school.

“Hot,” he observed. “Being in this car isn't helping. Look, put your head between your knees. As soon as you feel strong enough, we'll go back up to my office. Or I could carry you, if you like.” He smiled briefly. “I had no idea I had this much of an effect on women.”

He was being kind, reassuring her that it didn't matter. Maddy couldn't smile back. She took a couple of deep breaths and said, “I'm not going to faint.”

“Well, that's good.” He waited, then said, “It's really nice to see you again. I was starting to wonder what I'd do if you didn't turn up.”

He was even better looking than she'd imagined on Saturday night; he had the best eyelashes Maddy had ever seen. And as for those eyes…God, even George Clooney would be jealous. Worst of all, he was being so lovely, so concerned about her being ill and possibly about to throw up all over his shoes.

“By the way, they love the food,” Kerr went on. “So it looks like we're going to be seeing a lot more of each other.” He paused. “You could look a bit happier if you like.”

This was truly awful. It was no good. She had to tell him.

“Look, I'm sorry, but I don't think it's going to happen.” Maddy really was starting to feel sick now. Why did he have to be so nice?

“I'm not with you.” Even as he spoke, he was encouraging her to drink more of the ice-cold water.

“You don't even know my name,” Maddy said helplessly.

“And that's a major problem? How about if I—this is just off the top of my head—how about if I just ask you?”

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